Here’s the dilemma when progressives schedule a demonstration against an offending corporation: it needs to be during business hours–which is when most of the people who’d like to turn out for the demonstration are working. So the rally to protest the business practices of WellPoint and its subsidiary Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield wasn’t huge. The rally goers–maybe 100 of them–gathered in a small park between the streets that front Union Station and the Blue Cross Blue Shield offices.
They listened to a couple of people preaching the gospel of “Health care is a right, not a privilege” and to a couple of women, Melanie Shouse and Rebecca Tobias, describing how their health insurer, located a few hundred feet away in that big building across Chestnut Street, had screwed them. Between speakers, various cheerleaders with mics or bullhorns got antiphonal chants going: “What do we want? Health Care! When do we want it? Now!” and “Big insurance? Sick of it! Big insurance? Sick of it!” One salty woman with a bullhorn complained about the Blue Dog Democrats resisting the public option by calling them “neutered Democrats, who need to grow a pair”.
Finally, the group sent a small delegation consisting of the Rev. Mary Albert, who had spoken earlier, and the two women who had suffered at the hands of Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield to hand deliver a petition asking the company, among other things, to stop a program that rewards employees according to the number of claims they deny.
Most often, corporate representatives politely accept papers symbolizing a protest, but not on Tuesday. The two men, looking like Easter Island statues in suits, stood on the front steps of the building with three police officers and refused to take the paper that Albert tried to hand them.
Silly really. All they had to do was go back inside and stash it in the nearest circular file. But no.
So within five minutes, much of the crowd had gathered in front of the steps chanting, “What do we want? Health care! When do we want it? Now! What do we need? Health care! When do we need it? Now!” After a few minutes of that, the company reps relented and allowed one, just one, of the three women to approach–had to make that little power play, don’t you know. They were fuming at being challenged by the peons.
The video shows the three women descending the steps after being turned away. Then it jumps to the crowd chanting and finally shows Albert going up the steps to hand over the paper.
Thanks to Jo Mannies at the Beacon we have the company’s official rationalization for its behavior.
Anthem said in a statement that the demonstration wasn’t the best way to promote “constructive dialogue.”
“As was made clear by news reports throughout the weekend, the demonstrations were not a spontaneous reaction by Americans to the health-care reform debate, but instead were part of a heavily scripted campaign with pre-approved talking points, slogans and tactics,” the Anthem statement said.
Aside from the fact that two of Tuesday’s speakers denied the “scripted” charge in the comments section of the Beacon article (Here’s an excerpt: “I told a very private and painful story for the first time EVER of how our family finances were decimated, and my child’s health and well-being placed at life threatening risk by a concerted denial of care by our health insurance carrier.”), let me point out that the big insurance companies ought to recognize the difference between a heartfelt tale of woe at the hands of greedy profiteers and an actual “heavily scripted campaign”:
Earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal reported that AHIP – the multimillion dollar lobbying juggernaut for the health insurance industry – has mobilized 50,000 employees to lobby Congress to defeat the public option. ThinkProgress has learned that AHIP’s grassroots lobbying is being managed by the corporate consulting firm Democracy Data & Communications. DDC has made a name for itself as one of the most effective stealth lobbying firms. Earlier this summer, DDC was caught by reporters using a front group called “Citizens for a Safe Alexandria” to attack the Obama administration for seeking to prosecute Guantanamo Bay prisoners in Alexandria, VA.
So Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, ignoring the irony of their spokeshole calling our demonstration “heavily scripted” and pretending that they were interested in “constructive dialogue”, offered further misdirection by explaining its opposition to the public option. Turns out that the objection has nothing to do with the fact that the government entity wouldn’t be taking exorbitant profits and thus would challenge the easy billions health insurers currently rake in. Not at all.
The insurer blamed the federal government for much of the nation’s current health coverage issues. “Put simply, those covered by private insurance are already paying a premium to account for the cost-shifting which occurs today as a result of government programs setting artificially low reimbursement rates that are below the cost of doing business for hospitals and physicians. A government-run program will most certainly exacerbate this cost shift and ultimately result in decreased funding for doctors and hospitals and less choice for Americans.”
Correct me if I’ve failed to follow their tortuous reasoning, but we’re going broke on premiums because the federal government doesn’t pay doctors enough for treating Medicare and Medicaid patients. That in turn causes cost shifting. Doctors and hospitals charge other patients more to make up for their losses in treating Medicare patients.
There may be some cost shifting going on, for all I know. What I know for certain is that profits for the top ten health insurers rose from $2.4 billion in 2000 to $12.4 billion in 2007. Their profits quintupled in seven years. The real cost shifting is the cash going from our wallets into those of stockholders and CEOs.
Maybe some of the people reading The Beacon will be impressed with the line of malarkey Blue Cross spouted. Readers here, though, hardly need to be told that these silver tongued bastards are salivating at the thought of all those millions of mandated new customers without any competition from the government to bring down the premiums.
So. The rally is over. Time to get on the horn to Claire and stress again the need for a public option.